New World warbler

New World warbler
This article refers to the New World wood warbler family of birds, the Parulidae. For the Eurasian species Phylloscopus sibilatrix, see Wood Warbler.
New World warblers
Common Yellowthroat
Geolyphis trichas
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Family: Parulidae
Wetmore et al., 1947

The New World warblers or wood-warblers are a group of small, often colorful, passerine birds restricted to the New World. They are not related to the Old World warblers (Sylviidae) or the Australian warblers.

Most are arboreal, but some, like the Ovenbird and the two waterthrushes, are more terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores.

It is likely that this group originated in northern Central America, which remains with the greatest diversity and numbers of species. From thence they spread north during the interglacial periods, mainly as migrants, returning to the ancestral region in winter. Two genera, Myioborus and Basileuterus seem to have colonised South America early, perhaps before the two continents were linked, and provide most warbler species of that region.

Many migratory species, particularly those breeding further north, have distinctive male plumage at least in the breeding season, since males need to reclaim territory and advertise for mates each year. This tendency is particularly marked in the large genus Dendroica. In contrast, resident tropical species, which pair for life, show little if any sexual dimorphism.

There are of course exceptions. The Parkesia waterthrushes and Ovenbird are strongly migratory, but have identical male and female plumage, whereas the mainly tropical and sedentary yellowthroats are dimorphic.

The Granatellus chats also show sexual dimorphism, but due to recent genetic work have been moved into the family Cardinalidae (New World buntings and cardinals).

All the warblers are fairly small. The smallest species is the Lucy's Warbler (Oreothlypis luciae), at about 6.5 grams and 10.6 cm (4.2 in). The largest species depends upon the true taxonomy of the family. Traditionally, it was listed as Yellow-breasted Chat, at 18.2 cm (7.2 in). Since this may not be parulid, the Parkesia waterthrushes, the Ovenbird, the Russet-crowned Warbler and Semper's Warbler, all of which can exceed 15 cm (6 in) and 21 grams, could be considered the largest.

The migratory species tend to lay larger clutches of eggs, typically up to six, since the hazards of their journeys mean that many individuals will have only one chance to breed. In contrast, two eggs is typical for many tropical species, since the chicks can be provided with better care, and the adults are likely to have further opportunities for reproduction.

The scientific name for the family, Parulidae, originates from the fact that Linnaeus in 1758 named the Northern Parula as a tit, Parus americanus, and, as taxonomy developed, the genus name was modified first to Parulus and then the current Parula. The family name, of course, derives from that genus.



There are a number of issues in the taxonomy and systematics of the Parulidae.

  • The New World warblers are closely related to the tanagers, and some species like the conebills Conirostrum and the Bananaquit have been placed into either group by different authorities. Currently, the conebills are normally placed in Thraupidae and the Bananaquit in its own family.
  • Green-tailed Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and White-winged Warbler are other species where there have been questions as to whether they should be considered as warblers or tanagers.
  • The Pardusco, Nephelornis oneilli is also of uncertain affinities

Genera and species

  • Genus Seiurus

Incertae sedis

  • Semper's Warbler, Leucopeza semperi (possibly related to Teretistris and if so not a parulid)


  • Curson, Quinn and Beadle, 1994. New World Warblers. 252 p. ISBN 0-7136-3932-6
  • Lovette, I. J. and E. Bermingham. 2002. What is a wood-warbler? Molecular characterization of a monophyletic Parulidae. The Auk. 119(3): 695-714. PDF fulltext

External links


  • Dunn, Jon. 1997. A field guide to warblers of North America. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., x, 656 p. : ill. (some col.), col. maps ; 19 cm.
  • Morse, Douglass H. 1989. American warblers : an ecological and behavioral perspective. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, xii, 406 p. : ill., maps.
  • Harrison, Hal H. 1984. Wood warblers’ world. New York : Simon and Schuster, 335 p., 24 p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm.

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